Sustaining Success: Meeting the Needs of Mecklenburg County’s Homeless Population

by Sam McClenney, Research & Special Projects

A recent study commissioned by the City of Charlotte reports that the number of homeless families in Charlotte decreased by 27 percent from September 1, 2013, to August 31, 2014.

While this trend is promising, there are still more than 150,000 people in Mecklenburg County living below the poverty line, 60,000 of which are children and seniors, as noted by Second Harvest’s CEO Kay Carter in the Charlotte Observer article. These individuals are often both food insecure and homeless – their success must continue if Charlotte’s homeless are to transition from the streets into permanent homes.

What changes in Charlotte have made it easier for the homeless to lift themselves out of poverty? And how can we continue this trend in the coming years?

Keys to Success: Coordination & Mobilization

20018847_sHelping the homeless is not easy. No one homeless person or family is the same, so creating a system that provides each the exact help needed is impossible. However, agencies in Mecklenburg County have taken note of what works (and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t work), and are applying what they have learned.

According to Kelly Lynn, Director of Development at Supportive Housing Communities, the key to success has been a rigorous focus on best practices.

“Our community has been paying attention to practices that are most successful in other communities, along with learning new techniques at national conferences,” Lynn said. “One excellent initiative started in 2014 is Coordinated Assessment which connects individuals and families who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, to the best available shelter or housing resource.”

Another reason for the decline may be the rise in the number of local leaders focusing their energies on the issue of homelessness.

Thomas Wheeler, Founder of Urban Outreach, sees a shift in moving attention to action.

“From my perspective it is because more people are getting personally involved with the poor and homeless,” Wheeler said. “And when we come together as a community, positive change is inevitable.”

Coming together means generating empathy for the plight of the homeless, understanding that it is often out of the individual’s control.

Wheeler says: “I also think people are understanding that they too could be homeless one day (given a poor set of uncontrollable circumstances) and so their level of judgment of the guy or gal they see on the street corner has changed.”

Keeping the Ball Rolling

Success like Charlotte has achieved often results in praise, but it also brings pressure for continued success. Agencies responsible for this development will need to stabilize funding if they hope to continue their progress. Will this positive news provide a message of hope that can keep funders around? Carson Dean, of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, believes so.

“We really believe funders, especially foundations, major donors and congregations, want to invest in solutions, not just continue to manage crises,” Dean said. “This message of success has resonated well and I believe will only become more important to secure sustainable resources.”

Wheeler and Lynn echoed this sentiment.

“On the positive side some will see it as their efforts being affirmed and they will be more encouraged to help even further,” Wheeler said.

“We track our outcomes and show our funders the proof that the people we serve have ‘a place to live again’ and are not returning to homelessness,” Lynn said.

2015 and Beyond

Agencies will have to ‘step up their game’ if they want to top this past year’s success. The community seems more then up to the task, as they shared their plans for the coming year.

“Men’s Shelter of Charlotte plans to move 500 men to more appropriate housing, launch a formal diversion program to begin working towards diverting 20% of homeless men from ever needing shelter, and continue to build a cadre of landlords and employers eager to assist men,” Dean said.

Supportive Housing Communities started a program this past spring called the Scattered Site Program, which targets families that have little to no income, but have nowhere to go.

“SHC is currently serving 24 families with this initiative. By early 2015, SHC anticipates serving 17 individuals and 39 families in our Scattered Site Program, and we anticipate this number growing through the year,” Lynn said.

Start-up ministry Urban Outreach has big plans in 2015.

“Urban Outreach, has been incorporated to help leaders who help the poor be more successful,” Wheeler said. “I am trying to keep leaders focused on what they do best, helping the poor get off the street, rather than having to become fundraisers, marketing experts or great speakers by providing those other things for them.”

While 2014 was a successful year for the agencies that tackle the needs of Charlotte’s homeless community as many clients found their way out of poverty and into housing, there is still much more to be done. Luckily, it sounds like 2015 might bring even more success.

Photo Copyrights: / 123RF Stock Photo

Crowdfunding Backlash: Reading Rainbow

So, did you hear LeVar Burton raised a whole bunch of money on Kickstarter last week to relaunch Reading Rainbow?

The original goal was to raise $1 million in just over a month, with donations used to expand the Reading Rainbow app Burton has already developed (he bought the rights in 2009) into a web-based destination. In less than a day, the project reached its initial goal amount. The campaign has raised more than $3.2 million and climbing.

If you’re famous and can leverage nostalgia, crowdfunding can be very lucrative, but not without some criticism. The Veronica Mars Kickstarter Campaign raised $5.7 million for a movie based on the television show, and Zach Braff built upon affinity for his first film with a $3.1 million campaign to finance his new film. Both efforts were roundly denounced in the media, with Kickstarter’s founders forced to go on record with their reasoning.

Which brings us to Reading Rainbow. Despite a tremendous outpouring of support from donors and largely positive media notices, there was this from The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey:

Crowdfunding is theoretically supposed to bolster charities, start-ups, independent artists, small-business owners  and other projects that actually need the financial support of the masses to succeed. It’s not supposed to be co-opted by companies with profit motives and private investors of their own…”

As someone who has dedicated his life to helping nonprofits, a part of me understands this criticism. But I’ve come to accept that the world is changing, that technology has created a way to connect people with projects they want to see happen, and they aren’t digging up 990s on Guidestar to make their decisions. More than 72,000 people have supported the Reading Rainbow project, and despite sour grapes from the traditional press, folks are wearing their support like a badge of honor on social media.

Rather than see this as a challenge to the charitable sector, I suggest nonprofits study it and look to replicate it themselves. So what are the ingredients to a really good Kickstarter campaign?

  • Name Recognition: Millions have been generated for Reading Rainbow because many remember it as children.  If your nonprofit doesn’t evoke similar nostalgia or recognition, try securing a spokesperson who does. Bringing a recognizable face to your crowdfunding project helps it get early traction and shares on social media.
  • Marketing: A common mistake is to launch a crowdfunding campaign too early, assuming the site itself will market your campaign. In reality, a crowdfunding campaign is just like any other fundraising campaign – it needs a solid marketing plan to support it. Social and traditional media coupled with person-to-person outreach lights the spark of awareness that helps get the campaign off the ground, and can give it a boost if it lags.
  • Personal Requests: The dream of every fundraiser is that their message will hit a tipping point, and the dollars will start pouring in from people who are completely new to the organization. But the reality is that a base of support is needed first, and that is most likely to come from friends of friends. Your organization’s stakeholders have to be willing to leverage their networks to get that first 10-25% of support. 
  • Rewards: Those who support a crowdfunded campaign are typically different than your annual fund donors. They are more likely to skew younger, are impulsive in their investment, and are definitely wooed by perks. LeVar Burton offered donors of $10,000 or more the opportunity to wear his famous Star Trek visor (so far no takers), but that benefit has been reported by nearly every reporter who has covered the story. What can your organization offer that might get you some ink?

In the future, we are likely to support artists, writers, directors, musicians and yes, corporations by voting with our credit cards at the R&D stage, mitigating the risk of new ventures. For now, the morality police are keeping the space clear for the little guys – don’t let this opportunity pass you by!

The Downside of Social Media

I have empathy for people who make bad professional decisions and must suffer the consequences of their actions. I just do.

Back in February, the online shame police went into overdrive when it became known that Kelly Blazek, a marketing executive who ran a LinkedIn job bank for professionals in Cleveland in her spare time, wasn’t particularly nice to people who don’t follow the rules.  When a nasty declination e-mail she wrote to a job-seeker went viral, other folks came out of the woodwork with stories of receiving similar missives from her.  Before too long, Cleveland’s IABC “Communicator of the Year” for 2013 was getting national media attention, issuing multiple mea culpas and being forced to return her award.

If you read her e-mails to these job seekers, while a particularly mean streak becomes evident, it is also clear that job seekers can come across as a bit entitled. When Wendie Forman reached out to join the list in pursuit of “project management” positions, Blazek denied her access saying that the job bank “isn’t a fit for your background or the types of jobs you seek,” adding: “Good luck in your search.” Hardly an awful response. But Forman wasn’t satisfied: “I must say I was surprised by the tone of your emails and by your quick denial of my request. I will certainly discuss this with (the colleague) who referred me to you.”

Online communication, whether via e-mail or social media, empowers people to be very different than they would be in live communication. E-mails meant to come across as “professional” sound snippy and overly formal. A Facebook post meant to provide background for one’s point of view instead sounds preachy and elitist. A blog post describing your philosophy of engagement sounds like an attack on your former colleagues. Because online, we’re all six feet tall with “how good it sounds in our heads” driving us forward.

It has taken me a while, including an awful exchange with a colleague years ago when I mistakenly sent her a snarky e-mail intended for someone else, but I’ve come to embrace the following rules for online communication:

  • Bite Your Tongue – It’s simple: if you see a Facebook post that gets you angry, or receive an e-mail that makes you steamed, close the application and walk away. Go get a glass of water, look outside the window for a while, take a few deep breaths and make sure you don’t let emotion guide your words.
  • Put It In A Memo – This one took me a while, but I realize now that a ten page long e-mail is a bad move. If you need to communicate a lot of content, put it in a memo and send as an attachment to a brief e-mail. This comes across as much more thoughtful and planned than a 10,000-word e-mail at 3:30am.
  • Don’t Respond – I typically dislike when business communication goes without a response, which is often used as a delay tactic or as a means to shirk a conversation. But I would much rather someone not respond at all than send something that person might someday regret.

Are these things easier said than done? Of course. But these days, when the holier-than-thou social media mob mentality can ruin your career, it is important you don’t make a misstep just because you had a long day.

Photo Credit: Zoran Zivkovic (123-RF)

Yikes! Falling Behind on Social Media…

Neglecting the organization’s social media when times get busy is one of the classic mistakes made by so many nonprofits – consistent messaging is the goal. And yet here I am, having given that advice before, now a full month behind on my own firm’s blog posts. Shame on me.

“Oh, but I have really good excuses!” Of course I do. Doesn’t everyone? My excuses are that I have been very successful of late in new business development, securing several new clients over the past month. I also went on vacation, hosted guests for a weekend, and generally have been a very busy guy about town.

At this point, the classic Price Is Right “fail sound” should chime, and I should be escorted off the stage. There are no good excuses, only determination to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I’ve blogged previously about the importance of time management as an accountability tool. I’m currently working with a client on setting up a metric-based fund development platform, and I have been reminded of the importance of public accountability.

Over the next few weeks, I look forward to writing about the following subjects:

  • April 21 – The Downside of Social Media – Have you heard about the woman in Cleveland who ran an online job board and was publicly humiliated when a nasty e-mail she wrote a job seeker went viral? I look forward to exploring the darker side of social media in a post focused on ways to ensure you don’t make front page news just because you were having a bad day.
  • April 28 – Cultivating Gatekeepers and Decision-makers – In part two of a five part series, we’ll explore the important role cultivation plays in grant seeking.  This post will be well timed, as I am pleased to serve as Guest for the April 29 #GrantChat Tweetup focused on this very topic. Hope to see you on Twitter at noon EST that day.
  • May 5 – Making BIG Topics Local – A U.N. Science Panel just published a pretty dire report on the state of global climate change, with in-depth recommendations regarding action steps that need to be taken immediately. So, how do nonprofits in your town take a pressing global need like this and make it stick?

There, I just staked myself out and created public accountability. Have a great week everybody!

The Oscars: Storytelling Wins Every Time

by Josh Jacobson
The 86th Academy Awards are this coming Sunday, and my wife and I simply ran out of time.

Each year since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expanded the roster of Best Picture nominees from five to 10 in 2009, we make our best effort to see all of the nominated films before the Oscars broadcast. Since most of these films come out in the November/December time frame, it means regular trips to the movie theater each winter.

Some years we do better than others, depending on what is nominated. This year, of the nine nominated films, we saw seven, missing just two of the indies – Nebraska and Philomena – which we hope to catch as soon as they are released on-demand.

It was a tremendous year for the cinema! Some truly amazing films with incredible performances. And if you’ve kept up with this blog, you know that I tend to find allusions to nonprofit management and messaging strategy in the strangest of places, and the nominated films are no different:

  • Her (Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson)Her

This was likely my favorite nominated film (along with Gravity). It was such an inventive concept, and acted very well by the leads. Her tells the story of a man who develops affection for his female operating system. The film explores themes of loneliness and the social anxiety experienced by those in the throes of heartbreak.

Since the film is set in the future, we are treated to a unique glimpse of a digital world that may await us. For example, the lead character works at a company that composes love letters for couples. Because in the future, we outsource the writing of our love letters to someone who can do it more artfully than we would do it ourselves. And according to the film, it is a poet-customer relationship that may last for many years.

As someone who makes his livelihood from utilizing the written word to encourage action – to make someone feel something enough to make a donation or embark on a new strategy – the idea of outsourcing the creation of poetry that expresses a love between two people is an amazing concept. What a commentary on modern communication!

The world is changing – the advent of the Internet is seeing to that. Consider 5-6 years ago, when people were frightened to use their credit card on the Internet. Now? Most people have overcome that barrier. What other barriers will we break down? To experience something that moves us, which makes us feel something? For nonprofits, messaging and storytelling must go hand-in-hand. It may just be our secret weapon in a hyper-connected world in search of meaning and purpose.

  • Captain Phillips (Starring: Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi)Captain Phillips

Who doesn’t love a good Tom Hanks movie? He is such an everyman, equally capable with comedy and drama. And yet, with Captain Phillips, we get a nuanced performance unlike anything else he had done since Apollo 13. This is Hanks in his all-business mode, and it was truly a gripping performance.

Early in the movie, we are presented with evidence that Hanks’ character is a bit of a stickler for process and procedure, and from the looks his crew give each other, we can guess what they say about him when his back is turned. He chides crew members for not locking doors and securing outside areas, and though they roll their eyes as he requests their immediate action, it turns out to be wildly prescient. Not long into the trip, their ship is boarded by Somali pirates.

If you know the story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, then you knew Hanks’ advice to his crew was just foreshadowing. But hearing it, and seeing their reactions, I couldn’t help but feel for him. It isn’t easy being the taskmaster, to be the one who takes ownership and manages people.

This is particularly true for nonprofit managers, who may find themselves being asked to undertake a near-impossible task with too few resources, too little time, and under-trained (even unmotivated) personnel. As a consultant, I am often seated across from very well-meaning managers who need their staff members to operate independently, to “own their roles,” but find they must micro-manage to ensure quality outcomes. Folks who leave the nonprofit sector are typically just plain exhausted and pine for a better-resourced workplace.

Hanks’ character is shown wearily preparing for the trip, later ordering security precautions and practice drills. I empathized with his prioritization of process, even as it makes him less popular in the eyes of his crew because of it.

  • 12 Years a Slave (Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o)12 Years

Not long into this heartbreaking film, I found myself near tears – a state I would stay in for nearly two hours. My heart was in my throat the entire time, not realizing how rigidly I was grasping my wife’s arm. From the minute Ejiofor’s character finds himself kidnapped until he is once again reunited with his family, I was just devastated.

To call this the best film about the subject of slavery doesn’t do enough to capture its importance – it’s true, it depicts slavery in a more shockingly realistic way than any film I’ve ever seen. But what sets 12 Years a Slave apart is how very intimate it is. We are meant to experience the film through the eyes of Ejiofor, ripped from his family and forced into a nightmarish scenario. You see what he sees, and you feel what he feels.

Nonprofits, particularly human services organizations, take notice – how do you tell your story in such a way that the audience is transported? In making the story more palatable for our audiences, do nonprofits also sanitize the case for support and miss the chance to connect emotionally? I think so, and can point at this film as a prime example of what everyday Americans are capable of experiencing, willingly, with the desire to better understand.

And the winner is? Really anyone who saw these films and the others nominated, as well as many that the Academy did not nominate. Movies can uniquely reflect our current condition as humans, holding up a mirror that allows us to learn and grow. Popcorn anyone?

Three Questions to Consider This Week:

  1. What would the movie of your nonprofit attempt to communicate? How would you position the story arc?
  2. For many nonprofits, video is a relatively new medium. How does your organization embrace video to tell your nonprofit’s compelling story?
  3. If you received an Oscar for your role in making your nonprofit a success, who would you thank in your acceptance speech?

Image Credit: Featured Image (Wikipedia), Movie Posters (

What Can Bill Gates Teach Us in the Carolinas About Philanthropy?

By Josh Jacobson

The Next Stage Consulting blog is committed to covering topics related to life in the Carolinas.  So, what can a billionaire like Bill Gates teach us about what is happening in our own backyards?

First, a refresher on Bill Gates – most likely know him as the founder of Microsoft, the maker of Windows and the Office suite of software products that dominate the business landscape. But if you haven’t been paying attention, you may not know that he and his wife Melinda are the world’s leading philanthropists, having pledged to give away the vast majority of their estimated $78+ billion fortune to charity.

It is an amazing commitment, and one that has inspired more than 100 billionaires to make a similar commitment of donating more than half of their fortunes.  The Giving Pledge now counts high-profile billionaires like financier Warren Buffett, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and recently Virgin Group-founder Richard Branson.

Since 2000, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done some extraordinary things, including the near-eradication of polio from poverty-stricken countries across the world.  In fact, much of the foundation’s work has been on the global stage, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the Gates Foundation’s recent annual report focuses on debunking three myths that block progress for the poor throughout the world.

Reading through the 2014 Gates Letter, written by Bill Gates himself, I couldn’t help but draw connections to life in the Carolinas:

This is a pervasive sentiment for many, that these countries are beyond saving and are systemically damaged.  The letter does a good job of demonstrating that this isn’t true.  Over the last couple generations, global poverty has changed measurably, with the disparity between rich and poor greatly narrowed.  In fact, “there is a class of nations in the middle that barely existed 50 years ago, and it includes more than half of the world’s population.”  Mr. Gates is so confident as to declare that by 2035, “there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.”

The larger point is a good one – real change takes time. It takes a commitment that benchmarks not on a 90-day, annual or even multi-year continuum, but on a decades-long one.  It also requires a right-sized measuring stick.  Goals should be set that are meaningful to the communities served, not as compared to western world assumptions about what should be possible based on personal experiences.

There is much wisdom here that can be applied to the challenges facing our own Carolina communities.  Quick fixes are not likely work. Philanthropists and giving entities are too often interested in narrowly-defined annual returns on investment, wanting to be able prove statistically that their giving has made a difference.  That in turn forces nonprofit organizations to develop evaluation criteria to ensure continued support.

As much as I feel passionately that this is wrongheaded, it is hard to beat up on what few sources of charitable support do exist.  For too many, there is likely an assumption that poverty in our own cities and towns is a given, a fact to accept rather than fight.  For leaders across the Carolinas, it may be useful to debunk this myth for their own communities – how important have public, private and nonprofit interventions been to improving life in the Carolinas?

The second myth debunked by Mr. Gates is tied directly to the first – if you think that change is impossible or unlikely, you are also apt to believe spending money on it is a waste of resources that could be put to a better purpose.  The existence of corruption in those countries makes it easy to dismiss efforts – “I mean, how much of foreign aid is really getting to the people it is meant to serve anyways?”

As a fundraiser for much of my professional life, I have encountered this argument time and again – “But what will my small contribution mean in the grand scheme of things?” The problem is that we tend to see things compartmentalized rather than as a big picture.

This is particular true as it relates to compensation of nonprofit employees, which garners more headlines than it deserves.  By focusing on perceived wasteful spending, it becomes easier to throw one’s hands in the air and declare it all a “big waste.” The tendency to view nonprofits and NGOs in the same negative light as “bloated government” has been a slowly developing trend that threatens to undermine the entire sector.

As Next Stage Consulting tells its clients, the key to sustainability is to demonstrate ROI.  But if we’re only measuring in annual increments, as noted in the previous section, are nonprofits actually their own worst enemies?  More should be done by nonprofits to educate stakeholders on the true cost of progress, particularly those who have the capacity to make the biggest impact.

Admittedly, this myth is less directly applied to life in the Carolinas.  Most folks reading this are unlikely to fear that large scale interventions in poverty-stricken areas of the Carolinas will lead to a scarcity of resources.

But Mr. Gates makes a great case for the damage misinformation can do. This myth only exists because of scientific theories that were misheard, misinterpreted and accepted as fact. Saving lives has not led to overpopulation – in fact, the reverse has been true.  Education leads to more sustainable infrastructures and social progress.

Searching for connection to the Carolinas, the key may be the important role education plays in fighting social causes.  And not just the education of those directly impacted by poverty, but those community leaders called upon by society to do something about it.

So what can Bill Gates teach us in the Carolinas? Certainly more than one might think, but nothing more so than the commitment to improving the world through making a charitable commitment.  The message of the Gates Foundation is simple – we can all do more to make the world a better place.  And while his foundation’s focus may be on the global stage, consider making yours in neighborhoods across the Carolinas, where progress is indeed measurable and donations most definitely meaningful.

Photo Credit: Featured Image (Modified – Sebastian Derungs, World Economic Forum)

Bull Market: What Does It Mean for Nonprofits?

Happy New Year!

If you’re like me, you found yourself on January 1 surfing the Internet without much on the agenda. News of the stock market’s incredible 2013 was being heralded seemingly everywhere I looked:

  • Investors Cheer Record-Setting Year on Wall Street (USA Today)
  • Stock Market Notches Its Best Year Since 1995 (Los Angeles Times)
  • Stock Markets Count $6 Trillion in Gains (Forbes)

But not all was joyous to start 2014, for with the good news came the inevitable questions about the sustainability of such good fortune. Could the good time last?

Which just goes to show, if you look hard enough, there is always someone willing to take the wind out of your sails.

So what does the stock market’s performance in 2013 have to do with nonprofit organizations? If you’re asking that question, you aren’t likely a development professional.  Fundraising and the performance of the stock market are directly linked in many ways. Let’s take a look at the three areas of potential support – individual giving, foundation grant making and corporate support.

Individual Giving
One of the first bits of advice I would give new interns during my time with NYC’s Manhattan Theatre Club was to read the Wall Street Journal every day (or at least the cover) to have some idea of how the market was performing. To learn this lesson, try calling a would-be donor, particularly one in the financial industry, on a day when the market has dropped precipitously and asking that person to not only renew, but INCREASE support. Once you’ve gotten an earful, you are likely to avoid making that mistake again.

The stock market’s effect on individual giving is largely psychological. Unless you are sitting down to talk to a donor prospect about a multi-year gift, the exact performance of the market on the day or week you are making your ask is likely inconsequential. What does matter is the state of mind of the prospective donor. Is the individual in a good mood? Does that person feel confident in the future performance of his/her portfolio? In my experience, a person is likely to feel more generous during a time when that individual’s financial portfolio is on the rise.

Impact on Individual Giving in 2014: My hope is that many organizations in the Carolinas benefited this past holiday season from end-of-year appeals. With such sizable investment returns, some individuals were likely looking to offset the tax impact through charitable write-offs. But even if your organization only saw modest gains from those appeals, Q1 of 2014 represents an opportunity to continue building on those good feelings… before the other shoe drops on that potential market correction.

Foundation Grant Making
Perhaps no other charitable vehicle is as affected by the stock market as foundations, which typically consist of a mixture of financial assets heavily reliant on the stock market. Best practices call for foundations to allocate 5% of their assets annually based on a three-year rolling average of total assets at year end. That way, foundations can mitigate years with big losses against years with substantial gains.

Using the Dow as an example, 2013 represented the fifth year in a row of positive annual gains after that monster of a loss in 2008. If a foundation were to be invested entirely in assets represented by the Dow (however unlikely), that 33.84% loss in 2008 really hurt  the three-year average in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In fact, 2012 was the first year foundations were finally free and clear of 2008 in allocation calculations, and with two big years of double-digit returns in 2010 and 2011, it was a very good year for foundation giving in 2012. However, modest returns in 2011 (Dow finished at 5.5%+) and 2012 (7.26%+) would mean 2013 would need to be a big year to see that giving sustained. And luckily, it was.

Impact on Foundation Giving in 2014: It is going to be an even better year for foundation grant making in 2014. Even with the relatively modest returns in 2011 and 2012, the double-digit returns more than offset previous years in the three-year rolling average.  2014 promises to be the best year for foundation grant making since 2000.

Corporate Support/Sponsorship
When working with nonprofits, I am often surprised by the lack of connection some staff members make between corporate support and the performance of those companies.  As if a corporation exists principally to fund nonprofit programming, and whether or not the company is making money is less important than the artfully communicated case for support.

Corporate support is dependent on a number of factors, and one can reasonably assume that if that company is publicly traded on the stock market, it likely had a pretty great 2013. Stock performance is linked to profits, and companies that saw 20%+ growth in 2013 probably posted some pretty significant profits at various points throughout last year.

When companies profit, nonprofits benefit in two ways. Corporations with foundations are more likely to pump increased dollars in, and unlike private/family foundations, they typically don’t use a three-year average and give it all away on a yearly basis. Those companies are also good targets for sponsorship requests. Under-funded marketing efforts in previous years are likely given new budget after a year like 2013, and nonprofits may hold the key to reaching target audiences.

Impact on Corporate Giving in 2014: Without a doubt, 2014 is a great year to submit requests to corporate foundations and submit thoughtful sponsorship proposals.  Most companies have some sort of funding focus in both areas, and the 2013 market performance isn’t likely to change that. However, with the future still unknown, striking while the iron is hot is essential.